Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fantasy Review: City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

As much as I came to see City of Stairs, the first book of The Divine Cities, as a remarkable multi-genre crossover success, it took me a while to warm up to it. In fact, at one point I put the book down with little intention of finishing it. What a mistake that would have been. I’m glad I decided to give it one more chance, because something just ‘clicked’ for me, bringing the whole jumbled mythological tapestry together. In the end, it turned out to be one of my favorite books of the year.

Fortunately, there was no such hesitation or doubt involved with City of Blades. This is a book that hooked me from the first chapter and kept me reading at a frantic pace. I devoured the first 180 pages on a Friday night, and then binged my way through the rest over the weekend. While I’m sure familiarity with the world and the mythology helped (there was a steep learning curve with the first book), it was the shift in point-of-view that really made this second book so immediately accessible. Shara Thivani is kept largely off the page here, appearing only in a few scattered scenes, leaving General Turyin Mulaghesh to carry the tale.

Mulaghesh was definitely a secondary character in the first book, but one of significance. Giving her role in the Battle of Bulikov, I wasn’t sure we’d see her again in the series, but I’m glad Robert Jackson Bennett chose to put her at the forefront. Her angry sarcasm serves the story well, and it’s refreshing to have a non-traditional hero leading the tale. Leading with her allows Bennett to explore more of Bulikov’s history, which helps add new layers to the world building, and also reveals some surprisingly dark secrets in Mulaghesh’s past that explain her character and her return to action. She's a darker, more tragic hero than we knew, but she's also harder than we ever suspected. Retired she may be, forced into one last retirement tour, but she's still a soldier at heart.

We heard a lot about Voortyashtan in the first book, but actually seeing it for ourselves is something of a shock. This is not the civilized, progressive, urban fantasy setting of Bulikov. This is much more of a traditional rural fantasy setting, but one with layers and secrets of its own. Beneath the broken harbor town is a submerged city that must be dredged to reopen the canal; beneath the feudal conflicts of the river tribes and hill tribes is a dangerous political situation; and beneath the military presence on the frontier of civilization is . . . well, I won’t spoil the revelation of those layers. There's an entire other story under water and underground here, and it's the best part of the book.

Once again we have a traditional sort of mystery to launch the story, a murder mystery that brings Mulaghesh out of retirement, and a question of Divinity to add a frightening edge to things. This time, however, the threat of the divine is very much at the forefront of the tale, even if it does call into question one of the most well-known stories of the Blink. I loved the way Bennett explored that aspect here, and even if I guessed at the connection between the mines and the City of Blades itself, I have nothing but positive things to say about how it was all revealed. It’s a much faster paced story than the first one, with multiple conflicts to keep the reader on edge, and the epic finale is suitably HUGE for a book about the nature of Divinities and the question of an Afterlife.

City of Blades does have a lot in common with the first book, dealing with a lot of the same themes and ideas, but the new setting and change in POV make it a completely different book. I can honestly say I enjoyed it more than the first, and am anxious to see where Bennett takes us next.


Paperback, 464 pages
Expected publication: January 26th 2016 by Broadway Books

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

9 comments:

  1. Glad to hear you likedi t more than the first. The finale sounds particularly intriguing (although, don't give it away, hehe, I might pick this one up yet).

    Majanka @ I Heart Reading

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  2. Can you pick it up without reading the first one? The fast pace point of view sounds more my style.

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    1. You'd probably be okay reading this one on its own, Alex. You'd miss some of the references, but nothing that would interfere with the story.

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  3. It's odd, for me this one was slower, it felt like there was a LOT of history that needed to be told, and although it was fascinating, it made the pacing slower, at least in the beginning. But no doubt, a fabulous series!!

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    1. I found the history fascinating - a very cool corner of the world

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  4. I'm with you in that this one felt faster than the first one, but maybe it's because I love Mulaghesh so much and that opening chapter was like WHOOOA YOU DO NOT WANT TO PISS HER OFF. Given the choice between that and the courtroom intro in City of Stairs, I know which one I preferred. :)

    ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

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  5. Ooh, Mulaghesh is the protagonist? I muuuust get to this now.

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  6. Just to be different - I loved both. Strangely enough I didn't expect to enjoy this as much because of the change of characters but frankly I enjoyed it more or less from the get go!
    Lynn :D

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